Star gymnast Dipa Karmakar said on Friday that she would prefer cash instead of the BMW car she got as a gift for her exploits at the Rio Olympics as it would help her to prepare for future tournaments.
Dipa, alongwith the two Indian medallists from the Rio Games -- badminton star P.V. Sindhu and wrestler Sakshi Malik -- and Sindhu's coach Pullela Gopichand, received a BMW car each in August for their achievements at the Olympics from the Hyderabad District Badminton Association (HDBA).
The first woman gymnast from India to qualify for the Olympics, the Tripura girl had missed out on a medal by a fraction of a point in the women's vault event. She had executed the extremely difficult Produnova vault at the Games which had earned her a lot of appreciation.
While Sindhu and Gopi received BMW 320 Ds that cost around Rs.40 lakh each, Sakshi and Dipa received compact cross-over BMW X1s priced at around Rs.30 lakh each.
Cricket legend and India's goodwill ambassador at the Rio Olympics, Sachin Tendulkar, handed over the keys of the cars, made by German automaker BMW Group.
However, Dipa has said that it will be difficult for her to maintain the car as there are no service centres for the luxury vehicle in Tripura and the roads in the mountainous state are not suitable for such a car.
Instead, the Olympian wants a cash amount equal to the value of the car.
"If we got the money instead of the BMW car then we can utilise the money for my training purposes," Dipa told IANS on Friday.
Dipa also insisted that she does not want to return the gift and was forced to take the decision to return the premier vehicle only due to maintenance problems that she envisaged facing in Tripura.
"It is beyond my dreams to return the gift as I received the key of the car from none other than India's cricketing icon Sachin Tendulkar. I know very well that a gift cannot be returned. Controversy over the issue is unexpected," Dipa said.
"There is no showroom or service centre of BMW car in Tripura. If the car developed any technical snag during driving, how would I repair this in Agartala? There are also not sufficient suitable roads in Agartala and other places of the mountainous state to drive the expensive car."
"Sir (her coach Bisheshwar Nandi) discussed these matters with (HDBA President) V. Chamundeshwarnath. He agreed to deposit money equal to a BMW car's price in my bank account. We would be happy whatever amount they give instead of the BMW car," she added.
Dipa, who hails from Abhoynagar, on the outskirts of the state capital, said she did not take the decision solely by herself, and the issue was decided collectively by her coach, parents and other family members.
Dipa's father Dulal Karmakar said that getting a trained driver for the BMW car is also a problem in Agartala.
The ongoing controversy also got a political colour with the opposition Trinamool Congress supporting her decision while several state ministers observed that the roads in Tripura were much better than many other states and also suitable for plying of BMW cars.
Supporting Dipa, Trinamool Congress MLA Sudip Roy Barman told the media here that roads in Agartala are narrow and slow running rickshaws including battery operated rickshaws create congestion on the roads most of the time while the BMW car needs space as it runs at high speed.
Tripura Public Works Department (PWD) minister Badal Choudhury, transport minister Manik Dey and Sports minister Sahid Chowdhury however told the media that roads in Tripura are much better than those in many other states.
"Costly cars of President, Prime Ministers, foreign ministers, central ministers and other VVIPs have always plied on Tripura roads during their visits. No problems have been found yet," the PWD minister said.
Dey said that people from the state as well as outsiders are well aware about the roads in Tripura and many luxurious and heavy cars are always running in the state.
Dipa is determined not to let the controversy force her to shift her focus away from her training schedule.
"I am now keeping my focus and preparing for the Challengers' Cup in Germany, which is only a month away. I was advised by my coach not to worry about maintaining the expensive gift and focus on the future challenges to come," Dipa remarked.
Dipa had finished fourth in the final round of the women's vault event at the Rio Games.
After her performance at the Rio Olympics, the Tripura government promoted Dipa to the post of assistant director of the state's sports and youth affairs department.